Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Why we need an inclusive society

The ugliness of the 2016 election seems bound to continue beyond November 8th. It seems to me that addressing the divisions in our society must be at the top of Clinton's list of goals. One way to reduce some of those divisions is by reducing economic inequality, and that is on Clinton's agenda. John Cassidy (New Yorker) reports on Clinton's plan to tax the very rich to pay for such things as infrastructure improvements: Hillary Clinton's Plan to Squeeze the Ultra-Rich.

With all the attention given to whether Donald Trump would accept the results of the election, one major claim made by Hillary Clinton at last week’s Presidential debate was all but overlooked by the general public. Three times during the proceedings, Clinton asserted that her economic proposals—which call for about $1.65 trillion in additional spending over the next ten years on infrastructure, health care, education, and other items in the federal budget—wouldn’t “add a penny” to the national debt.

"We are going to ask the wealthy and corporations to pay their share,” Clinton said during last week’s debate. “And there is no evidence whatsoever that that will slow down or diminish our growth. In fact, I think just the opposite. We’ll have what economists call middle-out growth. We’ve got to get back to rebuilding the middle class, the families of America. That’s where growth will come from.”

A more progressive tax structure is a good first step toward reducing inequality. But we need to go further and change how people think of themselves and others and that means fostering social inclusion. The reason why we need to aim for social inclusion is that social exclusion breeds conspiracy theories, as Tom Jacobs explains in the Pacific Standard magazine, Social Exclusion Breeds Conspiratorial Thinking. "New research provides a possible clue as to why so many Donald Trump supporters believe outlandish things."

Donald Trump’s core supporters seem willing to swallow increasingly absurd conspiracy theories — including the candidate’s insistence that a vast array of international forces are out to defeat him. It’s easy to mock their credulousness, but newly published research suggests a specific psychological mechanism may be driving such beliefs.

It finds a feeling of social exclusion is linked to belief in superstitions and conspiracy theories. And, as a wide range of commentators, including President Barack Obama, have noted, many of Trump’s voters see a nation they no longer recognize and feel left out.

Social exclusion — the realization you have become cut off from either your circle of acquaintances, or the wider society — can be a source of intense discomfort. Princeton University psychologists Damaris Graeupner and Alin Coman argue it can send people on a search for meaning, which, in turn, leads some of them to accept discredited ideas.

[In the second of two studies college students] wrote a short essay, which — they were told — “would be given to the other two participants that were physically present in the room.” Those people “would rank who they would like to work with in a subsequent collaborative task.”

In fact, the students were randomly told they had been selected or not selected (with members of a third group not getting word either way). They then took a test designed to measure their superstitious beliefs.

... the researchers found higher levels of such beliefs among people who had just felt excluded. Graeupner and Coman believe these results help explain why so many conspiracy theories are “impervious to change.”

"Feeling socially excluded might lead one to endorse superstitious beliefs and conspiratorial ideas,” they write. “This endorsement, in turn, might lead to further exclusion from one’s social circle, and the cycle continues…. Very often, the individual who experiences social exclusion then searches for like-minded individuals who further reinforce those beliefs, until they become entrenched.”

Another reason to seek a more inclusive society is the present level of acrimony observed by Jeffrey Goldberg, now editor of The Atlantic. NPR reports on their interview with the new Atlantic Editor On Acrimony In U.S.: 'I Have To Imagine That It Actually Gets Worse'.

... recently, Goldberg pressed for his magazine to endorse Hillary Clinton for president. He said it was right, even though it's only the third time in its history The Atlantic has endorsed a presidential candidate.

"The Atlantic was founded by abolitionists in 1857 to bring about an end of slavery. It was not merely a non-racist magazine. It was an anti-racist magazine. It was about advancing the progressive American idea. It was about preserving the unity of the Union," Goldberg tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. "And so if you look at some of the things that Donald Trump has said and done over the past year, these fly in the face of some core principles of the founders of The Atlantic."

Many newspapers and magazines have called Trump a threat to the republic. Trump has made the media his target, though he also has a media executive as his campaign CEO. All of this poses a challenge for the magazine and widely read website that Goldberg leads. He wants The Atlantic to appeal to a wide audience at a moment when Americans are exceedingly divided.

"We're entering a period in which a profound number of Americans are alienated from a profound number of other Americans, and that is unhealthy and that disturbs me," he says.

Here are some quotes, all by Goldberg, from the interview.

I can't imagine that millions of Trump voters — having watched him lose and possibly having him come out and say the election was rigged — I can't imagine that all of these millions of disaffected angry people are going to say, "Oh, well. Hillary Clinton won. I guess I gotta get behind her." I wish that — and that's a nonpartisan wish. I can't imagine that this goes away. I have to imagine, and I don't mean to sound overly pessimistic, but I have to imagine that it actually gets worse.

... the thing that I worry about the most is that we've had an election season and election rhetoric that's untethered from observable reality.

So you have a candidate now who says, "I didn't say X" when there's tape of him saying X, and that doesn't seem to affect his supporters. In the old model when you catch a candidate making an obvious lie that usually hurts the candidate even among that candidate's base. And so we've moved into a new phase of the way in which truth is understood in part of the American polity, and that's troubling.

I don't know if that's reversible but the new administration has to try. Here is more justification for such an effort from an op-ed in the NY Times this morning, Your Facts or Mine? by Emma Roller.

The strongest bias in American politics is not a liberal bias or a conservative bias; it is a confirmation bias, or the urge to believe only things that confirm what you already believe to be true. Not only do we tend to seek out and remember information that reaffirms what we already believe, but there is also a “backfire effect,” which sees people doubling down on their beliefs after being presented with evidence that contradicts them.

So, where do we go from here? There’s no simple answer, but the only way people will start rejecting falsehoods being fed to them is by confronting uncomfortable truths. Fact-checking is like exposure therapy for partisans, and there is some reason to believe in what researchers call an “affective tipping point,” where “motivated reasoners” start to accept hard truths after seeing enough claims debunked over and over.

Some facts are equally inconvenient for both sides. President Obama has deported more people than any president before him. That fact doesn’t sit well with the president’s supporters, who think of Democrats as the party of kindness toward immigrants, and it doesn’t sit well with Mr. Trump’s supporters, who think the president is a weak and feckless leader.

“President Obama has moved millions of people out. Nobody knows about it. Nobody talks about it. But under Obama, millions of people have been moved out of this country. They’ve been deported,” Mr. Trump said at the third and final debate.

This criticism was bizarre — after building his campaign on a southern border wall and a “deportation force” that would round up undocumented immigrants by the millions — but it was true all the same.

Perhaps the eventual cure for our common confirmation bias is to reject truthiness and share the pain of embracing objective reality.

h/t Michele Manos for the Pacific Standard and NPR articles.

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